Real depression among Jehovah's Witnesses

by E. F.

Depressions - and the Changing Views of the Watchtower Society

At the end of 1991, a lecture on depression and the type of treatment by the elders in the assemblies was given by the head of the branch committee of the Watchtower Society in Switzerland on behalf of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses and for elders in the context of a Kingdom Service School organized by the branch office of the Watchtower Society. (In Germany, there were other topics in the corresponding trainings at that time).

While a certain scepticism, if not mistrust, towards psychotherapists had always been the order of the day before, new sounds were suddenly heard here. It was admitted that among Jehovah's Witnesses there were many people suffering from depression; it was known that in psychosomatic clinics there were always patients who confessed to Jehovah's Witnesses. The reason given was that the religion of the Witnesses was particularly attractive to people who were already suffering from depression.

That may be, but it's only part of reality. For it should be assumed that the nest warmth presented in the beginning, and especially the claimed spiritual paradise, should at least not exacerbate depressive states. Nevertheless, this is the case; when the warmth of the nest is replaced or at least suppressed by the requirements of religion after baptism, depression increases again, and many people become depressed who were never depressed before. In this respect, this spiritual paradise is a very precarious thing - if one does not want to regard it merely as a placebo, as a consolation for the disappointed in their expectations.

The Training event

The elders were told that if someone had a depression lasting longer than 5 days, they should urge that person to see a doctor or therapist. Even as elders, they are not professionals, have no expertise and should therefore refrain completely from medical or other treatment advice. This - reasonable - advice was very well reasoned and - as is usual in all lectures, even if the opposite had been said - applauded. In written form, however, I have not seen this lecture in any publication. It was an instruction to elders.

17 years later

In the meantime 17 years have passed and the objective and justified view of 1991 has long since been abandoned. When I talked to an elder about the subject last week, he told me that the new instructions would be completely different due to bad experiences (leaving the organization). Under no circumstances should one encourage or request a visit to doctors or therapists, even if their use is not prohibited.

The reasons: It had been found that these people very often would call religion the cause of depression. When I argued that there were also believing doctors and therapists who advised their patients on a Christian basis, this possibility was rejected on the grounds that they too in the Jehovah's Witness religion saw the cause of the increased depression. In fact, there are also known cases where people lost or were cured of their depression after their separation from the Jehovah's Witnesses.

I asked what the elders should do in the case of depression, because their incompetence was still there. The answer was that they were instructed (or recommended) to draw the attention of the sick to topics about depression in the magazine "Awake" where good advice would be given. But since the writers of these articles are not supposed to be experts either, but receive their articles from other sources or compile them on the basis of other sources, this is a strange method of treatment.

A kind of self-service therapy, a kind of self-treatment by sick people. The results - or non-results - can be imagined. But it shows once again that the governing body considers its authority over people to be more important than their proper treatment for their recovery, and that it is not prepared to seek the causative sources of depression in its own organization or in the burdens it imposes on people.

The prescription "more study, more meeting attendance, more sermon service" - thus in reality increase of the loads - is recommended also here as panacea. But as is generally known, a prescription that is supposed to be good for everything heals nothing at all; it only makes things worse. No wonder, then, when a district supervisor said on the occasion of his visit that the witnesses had to be the happiest people; instead, they all had grey, joyless faces. Yes, there are many depressed people, many who, because of the new attitude of the organization, do not even want to admit that they suffer from depression. (How elegantly one can package all this in vegetative dystonia). But the reality is: much more whining than lust, many grouchy, sorrowful, lamenting, grumbling, ungrateful, joyless, not spirit Christians, but rule Christians, law Christians who observe and criticize each other. But that doesn't bother the great spirits in Brooklyn. If the facts do not correspond to their theories, so much the worse for the facts!

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